Ward filled with storm-blown seabirds


Veterinary technician Pauline Conayne
treats a broad-billed prion.

Stormy weather has seen Massey’s Wildlife Health Centre inundated with struggling broad-billed prions that have been brought in from around the lower North Island.

The ward is currently treating 120 of the birds for exhaustion, with people from as far away as New Plymouth dropping them off to the centre. The broad-billed prion is a small seabird that is common on islands around New Zealand.

Wildlife veterinarian Danielle Sijbranda says it appears the storm has blown the birds off course and many have been unable to continue fighting the wind.

“The birds are all exhausted and cold,” she says. “So we’re giving them fluids and some fish to eat and warming then up.”

The ward has so many birds extra rooms are being set up to house them, and staff have been brought in to help with their care.

Hopefully the birds will recover quickly and be released at a nearby beach as soon as possible, Ms Sijbranda says.

“This is a unique occurrence for the ward, which has never treated this many birds at once before.”  

Senior ecology lecturer Dr Phil Battley says the birds are probably from islands off the south coast of New Zealand.

“They come north and west in winter but we normally don’t see them because they’re out at sea,” he says. “The problem they’re having is the sustained westerly winds. They’re quite a light bird and they fly downwind mainly so they can’t get back out to sea.”

Dr Battley says the phenomenon is called a wreck. “Every 10 years or so there will be a wreck of birds such as this, and it’s been quite a while since there has been a big wreck of prions.”

Members of the public who find a bird should put it into a cardboard box out of the wind and bring it into the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Massey until 8.30pm this evening, or keep it in a warm quiet place until morning.

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